Public Influence: How Police Officers Have Prevented "Jump!" Chants

Categories: Crime

Andrew J. Nilsen
California Penal Code Section 401 states, "Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony."

In this week's feature story, "Public Influence," multiple people violated this law. As Dylan Yount stood on the ledge 100 feet up, spectators in the crowd yelled things like "Jump!" and "Do it already!" It worked the way mobs usually work, starting with one brash person caught up in a moment of cruel ignorance. Then someone else wanted in on the laughs. Soon, they fed off each other, soaking in the chuckles, until eventually the shouts were coming every few seconds.

Would Dylan have jumped if those people hadn't dared him to? Impossible to know. What we do know, however, is that two dozen or so police officers were at the scene. And there is no evidence that any of them attempted to silence the yellers.

That's not always the case.

See Also: Public Influence: The Immortalization of an Anonymous Death

In 1984, a college student stood on top of a water tank in Campbell. He threatened to jump. According to newspaper reports, a San Mateo man named Nathan Biggs allegedly yelled "Jump!" Police on the scene immediately arrested him.

Capt. Ron Eddlemon told the Mojave Daily that the officers arrested 26-year-old Biggs because "If they hadn't, other people in the crowd might have taken up the chant."

The man on the tower was talked down, and Biggs was booked into jail on charges of "encouraging a suicide, a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison," according to the Daily.

The suicide encouragement law is in the books, in one form or another, in most jurisdictions. In August 2011, for example, two Salem, Mass., teenagers were arrested for yelling "Jump!" at a "distraught young man on the roof" whom authorities were trying to take to a mental hospital, according to the Salem News:

From the crowd came the voices of two men, [Prosecutor Matthew] Hemond said: [19-year-old David] Duchesne, who yelled, "Jump, you (expletive expletive)," and a second man, Timothy Fleury, 20, of Beverly, who also allegedly yelled "Jump," then goaded the troubled man with, "You won't do it."

The yellers were charged with disorderly conduct. The man on the roof eventually came down safely.

In both of the above cases, local police eliminated the potential for mob behavior by extinguishing the initial sparks. Groups don't start off as mobs. They become mob-like once individuals see others violate social laws with no consequences -- whether it's throwing a steel chair through a Starbucks window or yelling "jump" at a man on a ledge. And then there's a whole bunch of troublemakers and police can't arrest them all.

But if you see one guy -- the first guy perhaps -- get arrested after yelling "jump", you're much less likely to yell "jump."

My Voice Nation Help

Even if police in Minnesota WANTED to stop a suicide baiting, they could not because it is LEAGAL.  What happened at the suicide baiting of Dylan Yount in Hallidie Plaza, San Francisco, 2-16-10 is NOT A FREE SPEECH RIGHT.  It is the exploitation of a mentally ill man for entertainment.  Who empowers suicide predators?  Everyone who accepts this:  "Minnesota Supreme Court turns its back on mentally ill" at


"Kathy Yount, Individually And In Her Capacity As v. City and County of San Francisco" is scheduled for a jury trial date set to begin July 28, 2014, with the Honorable Judge Cynthia Ming-mei Lee presiding. My two newest columns are "7734: Are police in San Francisco public servants?" and "The SFPD: Still fighting the art of de-escalation." The URL's are



San Francisco is not Campbell. SFPD is a force that is retired on the job. The median age of officers is too high. Stale skills, aversion to risk, and an exaggerated sense of entitlement have led to San Franciscans paying more, and getting less, for police services. Disorderly conduct is rewarded in San Francisco. More often than we care to admit, it leads to wrongful death.

Now Trending

San Francisco Concert Tickets

From the Vault


©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.